Packaging is More Than a Vessel

In an era where consumers want packaging that is attractive, protective and responsible, packaging can grab attention, tell a story, and differentiate businesses and products. ©DC Studio –

A New Study Reveals Online Shoppers’ Packaging Preferences

By Jeff Wolpov, Senior Vice President of E-commerce Solutions for Ryder System, Inc.

There is no shortage of factors a company must weigh when making decisions about how to attract, retain, and build loyalty among customers, but looking at the insights from our ninth annual e-commerce study, there is a distinct opportunity to explore avenues that appeal to consumers’ complex sensibilities.

According to our March 2023 survey of 1,077 consumers across the U.S. who shop online, packaging is a catalyst for attracting and fostering brand affinity among customers who desire an indulgent customer experience but also want to support companies making socially and environmentally conscious efforts.

Consumers value packaging that considers people and planet

As consumers grow more conscious about environmental and social issues, their feelings about e-commerce packaging are becoming more resolute. In recent years, sustainable packaging has played an increasingly influential role in consumers’ purchase intent; however, this year’s research showed a spike in the power of socially conscious packaging choices.

While eco-friendly packaging (post-recycled consumer materials, sustainable ink, etc.) remains the environmental factor most likely to encourage a consumer to shop with a brand (54%), that’s down 12% from last year. Meanwhile, the impact of ethically sourced packaging has more than doubled, growing from 13% to 27% year-over-year.

Sustainable packaging plays an increasingly influential role in consumers’ purchase intent. Source: Ryder 2023 E-commerce Consumer Study.

Boxes trump bags

Most online shoppers prefer to receive their online orders in boxes (74%), but that preference is waning, down 7% year over year, while the number of consumers who prefer bags (26%) has increased by as much. It’s reasonable to assume this shift is due, at least in part, to recent investments packaging companies have made in sustainable alternatives to traditional plastic poly bags. However, the 2023 study shows that online shoppers attribute their inclinations to various factors.

Among shoppers who prefer boxes over bags:

  • 44% say boxes provide better protection in transit
  • 31% reuse the boxes
  • 25% believe boxes are more eco-friendly than bags

Among shoppers who prefer to receive online orders in bags:

  • 50% claim bags are easier to dispose of
  • 20% said bags take up less space
  • 21% reuse the bags

While determining the type of packaging that is assigned to an online order is dependent upon the components of that order, it’s helpful to be able to take consumer sentiment into consideration in instances where you may be on the fence.

Premium packaging earns points

It’s clear that today’s conscious consumers respond to packaging decisions that aim to improve the condition of our planet, but they still want an experience that is pleasing to their senses. When asked how their feelings about a brand they’ve purchased from are affected by a premium unboxing experience (e.g., a custom-designed box, colorful tissue paper, ribbons, twine, etc.), 47% said it makes them more excited about opening the package and 27% said it makes them want to purchase from the brand again.

These results not only speak to the impact premium packaging has on online order recipients — but also the potential ripple effect those positive experiences can have — namely, through social media. The study explored various factors that would encourage shoppers to post photos or videos showcasing an online order they received. Among those factors, visually appealing packaging took the top spot (33%), followed by free samples or gifts (31%), eco-friendly packaging (25%) and personalized packaging components (11%).

Premium packaging has a positive impact on online order recipients that can cause a ripple effect. Source: Ryder 2023 E-commerce Consumer Study

Choosing function over form often feels like a sound decision, but making packaging decisions that create a unique, memorable, enjoyable experience can realize a significant return on investment, not only in terms of existing customers, but also from potential customers who can be influenced.

Strategic packaging brings your business beyond delivery day

Packaging is more than just a vessel to transport and protect products; it can also be used as a robust marketing tool. The real estate available through both internal and external shipping packaging is rife with opportunities to educate and engage customers. QR codes have proven to be a valuable way to leverage packaging real estate, and this study confirms how consumers are engaging with them to enhance their experience.

Among online shoppers who scan QR codes printed on online order packaging, 47% reported they are doing so in order to be entered into a contest or giveaway, while 42% are scanning QR codes in order to receive personalized offers based on their purchases.

In today’s competitive e-commerce retail landscape, packaging is a highly effective tool to grab attention, tell a story, and differentiate your business and products. In an era where consumers want packaging that is attractive, protective, and responsible, businesses must explore all of these avenues to stand out and optimize the evolving desires of the modern shopper.

To dive deeper into the research and glean insights that can help inform the packaging decisions you can make to meaningfully engage customers, download your free copy of the 9th annual Ryder1 E-commerce Study.

About the Author

As senior vice president, e-commerce, at Ryder System, Inc., Jeff Wolpov leads the vision and strategy for Ryder’s e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment solutions, driving business expansion and revenue growth. Learn more at


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